Preschooler talking and listening: what to expect

At 3-5 years, you might hear lots of talk and questions from your preschooler. This is because preschoolers:

  • need to practise new words, speech sounds and language skills
  • are constantly fascinated by the world around them
  • learn by talking with people who know more than they do.

Preschoolers communicate through:

  • lots of talk and questions
  • body language like gestures and noises
  • play, particularly make-believe play
  • painting and craft.

Your child is getting better at using words to tell you that he’s upset, instead of having a tantrum. This is because he’s better at understanding feelings and controlling his own emotions.

You’ll also notice that your child can hold longer conversations. This is because she can pay attention to things for longer.

And don’t be surprised if your preschooler tells the same story over and over again. This is because repeating ideas and stories helps preschoolers work out what’s going on in the world around them.

Listening to your preschooler

When you show your child that you’re listening, it sends the message that what your child is thinking and saying is important to you. This message is great for communication, as well as your relationship with your child.

Here’s how to listen – and show your child that you’re listening:

  • Stop what you’re doing and give your full attention to your child whenever you can.
  • Get down to your child’s level and make eye contact.
  • Tune in to your child’s body language. This can tell you a lot. For example, your child might be shaking with anger or jumping up and down with delight.
  • When your child tells you something, summarise it back to check that you understand what he’s saying.
  • Use phrases that show you’re interested. For example, you can say, ‘Really?’, ‘Go on’, or ‘And then what happened?’
  • Nod, smile and be affectionate when your child is talking.
  • Try to listen until your child finishes telling a story.

Preschoolers love to talk and tell stories! If you can’t listen right now or you need to stop listening during a long story, let your child know. For example, ‘We’re almost at preschool. Would you like to finish the story quickly now or tell me the rest later?’ Make sure to follow through later.

Talking to your child

Your child can use and understand a lot of words, but she still might have trouble understanding what you’re saying sometimes.

Here are some ideas that can help you talk and communicate clearly with your preschooler:

  • Try to say exactly what you mean. Your child might not understand jokes, exaggeration or sarcasm and you might hurt his feelings.
  • Make sure your body language and facial expressions match what you’re saying. For example, smile and make eye contact when you tell your child you love her.
  • If your child can’t understand what you’re saying repeat the same message in a couple of different ways. For example, ‘Put your bag on the hook’ and ‘Pick up your bag and hang it on the hook’.
  • Help your child learn ‘why’ by explaining things when you’re speaking. For example, ‘We don’t ride bikes on the road because we might get hit by a car’.
  • Encourage your child to take turns when you’re talking together. This develops good conversation skills for life. Taking turns to talk also builds your child’s listening skills.
  • Give your child lots of specific praise and encouragement for good communicating. For example, ‘Thanks for finishing the story when it was time to eat lunch’.

Answering your child’s questions

When you take your child’s questions seriously and take the time to give a real answer, you encourage your child to keep asking questions. This helps your child to learn about the world as he grows and develops.

If you don’t know the answer to your child’s question, you can find out the answer together. For example, you could say ‘That’s a really interesting question – let’s see if we can find out. Can we ask someone we know? Can we look on the internet or find a book at the library?’